For centuries there have been tales of strange noises on top of Roan Mountain on the border of western North Carolina and east Tennessee. Some reported hearing a choir of fairies, angels or ghosts singing, but others look for a scientific explanation to what causes the alleged surreal sounds that frighten many visitors, especially those visiting the luxurious Cloudland Hotel Resort in the late 1800s.
My Home, NC talks to author and historian Jennifer Bauer about this fascinating North Carolina legend.
Author and historian Jennifer Bauer
If the mountain music or the ghost choir was heard, wind was blowing very hard. People have reported great fear.
Mystery on a Cloudland oasis
Roan Mountain, NC is an incredibly spiritual place for Jennifer Bauer.
“When you’re on top of the Roan, your cares just lift,” she said.
The mountain is nestled right on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Bauer has lived in Roan Mountain for 38 years, and has previously worked on programs for the Roan Mountain State Park. In her time there, she’s not only experienced its natural beauty, but has also become familiar with the stories and history of its legendary mystery: the Roan Mountain ghost choir.
“I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people whose parents’ grandparents worked in the Cloudland Hotel in the late 1800s,” Bauer said. “[This was] a time when reports of the mountain music and ghost choir were talked about.”
The Cloudland Hotel, a luxurious establishment in its hey day, had been built by General Wilder after his tenure in the Civil War. He had started receiving reports of guests getting trapped in storms and hearing strange and eerie sounds, Bauer said.
Spirits in the wind
In her research, Bauer found that strong winds were always a part of these reports.
“If the mountain music or the ghost choir was heard, wind was blowing very hard. People have reported great fear,” she said.
Those who came across these sounds on Roan Mountain had different takes on what they might be.
“Some people thought the sound was fairies. Others thought the mountain music came from the spirits of Cherokee and Catawba Indians, who many years ago fought on top of the Roan,” Bauer said.
But others interpreted something more menacing.
“Other people felt that what they were hearing was the mountain actually talking to them,” Bauer said. “Some people took them as very evil messages. It felt like the devil himself had come up from the depths below to find them.”
A scientific explanation
During the time of the Cloudland Hotel and these mysterious reports, scientist Henry Colton from Knoxville arrived on the scene to investigate.
“Ultimately, Mr. Colton determined the sounds were being made by friction and electricity generated by friction usually at the narrowest ridges,” Bauer said. “Now, we don’t know that that’s the answer, but that was the scientific approach to finding out why so many people were frightened when they were out during these serious storms.”
Bauer notes the nature of the location likely impacted people as well.
“The folks that lived here then were very, very isolated. I can imagine that sometimes fear could be a big part of a person’s life,” she said.
But whether it’s the beauty in the location found today, or the mysterious, storied past, Roan Mountain holds a special place in Bauer’s heart.
“I just love this mountain. It’s actually a part of my soul.”
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